Methane on Mars

The Curiosity rover took this selfie as it climbed Mount Sharp in June 2018. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Click to enlarge.

Apr 12, 2019

Did decaying organic material lead to methane emissions?

According to a recent press release, measurements taken from orbit correlate to the detection of methane  in the regolith of Mars by NASA’s Curiosity mission. This is the first time an in-situ measurement was confirmed from orbit.

Methane is important to planetary scientists because it is thought to be created by living organism, as well as by chemical action. Methane is quickly reformed in any oxygen containing atmosphere, breaking into its constituent atoms, forming carbon dioxide and water vapor. Although the article states that methane was detected by both instruments, it also says that it might have been contained in underground pockets that could be extremely old.

As Marco Giuranna from the National Institute for Astrophysics – Institute for Space Astrophysics and Planetology wrote:

“In general we did not detect any methane, aside from one definite detection of about 15 parts per billion by volume of methane in the atmosphere, which turned out to be a day after Curiosity reported a spike of about six parts per billion. Although parts per billion in general means a relatively small amount, it is quite remarkable for Mars…”

The research team believes that the ground-based methane detection was due to relatively weak geologic processes releasing gas trapped beneath the surface, although how it got there is not understood.

The surface of Mars is preserved in a desert-like deep freeze, and appears devoid of water erosion, it is an excellent observational laboratory for Electric Universe concepts. One of the points emphasized by those who advocate the Electric Universe theory, is that the Solar System was the scene of catastrophic events in the recent past that took the form of massive electric discharges and other plasma phenomena. Whatever agency was responsible, perhaps the close passage of another electrically charged celestial body or bodies, the result was devastation on a planetary scale.

Those catastrophic events are thought to have occurred between 5000 and 10,000 years ago. Some regions of Mars are so inundated with dust that there is no way for orbital instruments to derive a spectrogram. That means that no one knows what is under the dust. Since there is no way to know what it is, the speculation is that it might be layers of volcanic deposits, sediments from an ocean that vanished billions of years ago, or “compacted wind-blown soils”.

An alternative theory states that when electricity makes contact with a solid body, such as a planet, electric currents pull charged material from the surface where the arc touches down. Neutral dust and stones are pulled along with the ionized particles. Craters are most often circular because electromagnetic forces causes the arc to maintain right angles to the impact zone. In conventional terms, one must ask how an impact from space forms a cleanly incised crater, with no blast debris around it?

Electric Universe proponent Wal Thornhill suggests that a positively charged surface will be melted, while the electromagnetic forces within a plasma arc might lift the surface to form a “lightning blister,” called a fulgamite. Olympus Mons, for example, demonstrates the results of such a discharge: a gigantic mound with several overlapping craters at the top and a vertical drop off at its edge. There is also a “moat” surrounding Olympus Mons, as well as other mountainous formations.

If the surface is negatively charged, arcs will travel, sometimes eroding elongated craters. The arcs might also jump from high point to high point. Smaller craters on the rims of larger ones point to this phenomenon. A series of craters in a line, otherwise called a “crater chain,” is another sign of arcing to a negatively charged substrate.

The advantage of the electrical interpretation is that it directly explains the nature of the topography dominating the surface of Mars. Electromagnetic forces between Birkeland currents constrained to a surface will force them into alignment. Ionic winds can lift pulverized rock and carry it along in the direction of the current flow. Where a discharge channel bifurcates, the branches tend to remain parallel to each other and may rejoin. Orthogonal coronal discharges from parallel Birkeland currents generate ripples of finely divided material.

Currently, soil temperature on Mars is about minus 50 Celsius; so cold that carbon dioxide freezes solid. Therefore, the prevailing view is that it is covered with a layer of ice. If water exists, it must be locked in icy soils or in underground vaults, since the low-density atmosphere would cause water-ice out in the open to sublime. Clouds and low-lying fog were reported by the Mars Exploration Rovers, for instance.

Lightning of sufficient power can compress material in its discharge channel and accelerate it along with a negative charge, forming a jet. If the jet contains water vapor, liquid water or even ice might form inside the Birkeland filament due to z-pinch effects. If this phenomenon were scaled up to planetary dimensions, the increased electric discharges could have dumped quantities of ice particles onto the surface that clumped together into frozen piles. That same electrical mechanism could also re-form various molecules: creating methane (CH4) out of water and carbon dioxide. Since that idea is highly speculative, more data is necessary in order to confirm the theory.

Stephen Smith

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